(The start of our journey on the trains, the old train station – Image source: http://spwise.wordpress.com)
These days when I go back to my in-law’s house in Taiping for a well-deserved rest, we usually take the North South Highway and it takes us about 3 hours to reach. But there was a time in the late 70s and early 80s when we used to travel to Taiping by train during the festivals (very rare Deepavali celebrations in Taiping) or when someone had kicked the bucket or when someone very close was getting married.
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Back then, we did not have any cars – so travelling by road to Taiping was off the question. In fact, it was very, very rare that even if someone kicked the bucket or there is a marriage, all of us will go. It was expensive to hire a car too. So, the best choice if we have decided to go as one family would be to go by train (still remember Express Rakyat and Express Senandung Malam?).
Of course, we could have taken the bus but my Dad loved trains and he made sure that he made enough (usually working throughout the night) to take the whole family by train. Besides, my Dad being a lorry driver back then did not really like the idea of taking the bus at night and travelling on dangerous trunk roads.
We would pack our things early and will be waiting for Dad to come back from work. He usually comes in at night and confirms whether we are indeed going to Taiping (this is because he will get his monthly payments on the last minute before Deepavali).
My Mom will cook something simple so that we don’t have to waste time if we are confirmed leaving to Taiping that very night. This, however, has not stopped my Dad to cook something special for the night. “There is plenty of time”; he assures us (and Mom).
After a heavy dinner, we would have packed up and then head to the bus stop with my Dad and Mom carrying most of the luggage. There is no prior ticket bookings or online booking those days so, in a way, we were taking some risk.
We will rush to the train station and my Dad would queue up to buy the tickets whilst we waited anxiously to put our foot on the train platform. As I recall, all those years, we have always been lucky – there is always a ticket for all of us except for one particular year (we had to come home when the tickets were sold out – everyone was so disappointed).
Depending on the amount of cash he has my Dad sometimes books for us the sleepers – which has comfortable beds. Otherwise, it is the standard economy seat for us until we reach Taiping and in those days, the seats were not exactly comfortable for a long journey.
For this reason, we usually end up walking about the cabin when our backs started to give indications of pain and stiffness. Sometimes we walk all the way to the luxury class – just to see how the rich people are travelling in comfort. We will get excited and imagine ourselves travelling in one of those luxury classes.
(I still get excited when seeing a train passing by and the sound of the cabin passing on the track. Image source: http://www.trainweb.org)
My Mom usually packed something for us to eat during our journey – although there is a meal cabin and food sellers usually walk about the train cabins selling food and drinks, we usually opt not to buy them. The reason is simple – we could not afford to spend money on those items (most of the money already been spent on the tickets and for future use once we reached Taiping, sigh).
But when we stop over at certain stations and it will take say a couple of minutes before the train “takes off”, my Dad would go down and quickly pack some food and drink from the station cafeteria. Of course, this is a big risk because the train could move before my Dad comes back with the food, so what he does is that he will inform the KTM officials (the one holding the flag) stationed at the platform that he is going down to buy some food – so he usually makes it back on time.
But there was a close call once.
My Dad went down the platform as we were peering out the window, watching him running towards the shop and after a moment, we lost sight of him (it was not easy to look for people at night). Suddenly the train started to move and my Dad was nowhere to be seen. Being kids, we started to panic but my Mom remains to relax. She said that at the worst-case scenario – Dad can always take the next train to Taiping.
The train moved and soon it was on cruising speed. We actually thought we had left Dad stranded at the platform when suddenly he walked towards us from another cabin. He had entered the train from another door and the official had noted this before giving the green flag.
Travelling by train is very tiring mainly due to the low quality of its seats and also because we are travelling at night, we can’t see much on the outside (nothing to distract us from the boredom in the inside). So, when we are about to reach Taiping, everyone looked very relieved. When we reached Taiping, it will be on wee-hours (as I recall 3 – 4 in the morning) but there will be a lot of people on the train station (which is Malaysia’s first train station) waiting for their trains.
Sometimes one of our relatives will be waiting for us with a bicycle to carry the bags and us, the kids, back to the house. But most of the time, we had to carry the bags ourselves. The good thing is when we reach the relative’s house (despite the wee hours); they will still be awake, waiting for us. So, it is not a big surprise to see the adults continue to stay up to chit chat until the sun rises on the horizon whilst we kids are swiftly sent to our beds to have a proper sleep.
The return journey back to KL, however, is smoother and more comfortable – our relatives will book for us the tickets upfront and usually with better seats (and they get angry when Dad tries to pay them back). For the journey back, we get even more food items packed for us kids and because we travel back during the day, we usually end up sitting by the window, watching the scenery and the happenings on the small towns and villages that we pass by.
It has been years since I took the train back to Taiping but it is in my future travel plans especially when my son has not experienced a train ride yet…